Photo credit: Art Shay

The feature length documentary, ALGREN explores the impact of one of the most underrated and influential writers of the twentieth century, Nelson Algren.

Nelson Algren exploded onto the national literary scene in 1950, winning the first National Book Award for The Man with the Golden Arm. His dense, almost poetic, prose garnered him attention and praise from the literary elite. His subject matter, Chicago’s underclass pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals courted controversy with the public. Ernest Hemingway declared him second only to Faulkner as the great American writer. Kurt Vonnegut dubbed him a literary groundbreaker. Hollywood eagerly came calling, to immortalize his breakout novel with no less than Frank Sinatra playing the lead. And he won a notorious place in both the heart and work of France’s feminist queen Simone de Beauvoir whose thinly disguised portrayal of Algren as a jilted lover in her best seller The Mandarins was a shockingly public betrayal. Less than 20 years later, Algren would find himself living in virtual obscurity, derided as “the Bard of the Stumblebums.” His work considered hopelessly out of date by a country eager to forget its most vulnerable.

ALGREN uses never before seen film and video footage, newly uncovered audio recordings and Algren’s rarely seen private photo collages to chart the rise and fall of a man whose transgression, compassion and thirst for justice pushed him to dedicate his life and career to giving a voice to the voiceless. Through interviews with Algren’s friends, literary experts and artists including John Sayles, William Friedkin, Philip Kaufman, Billy Corgan, and Wayne Kramer, the film reveals an intimate, funny and sometimes contradictory portrait of the tireless champion of America’s underclass.